Gregory Bull / AP

Peter Coy and Christopher Flavella write in Bloomberg Businessweek's cover story: "Harvey Wasn't Just Bad Weather. It Was Bad City Planning ... Houston exulted in sprawling, free-form growth, but laissez-faire isn't the way to prepare for natural catastrophes."

  • "No city could have with-stood Harvey without serious harm, but Houston made itself more vulnerable than necessary."
  • "Paving over the saw-grass prairie reduced the ground's capacity to absorb rainfall. Flood-control reservoirs were too small. Building codes were inadequate. Roads became rivers, so while hospitals were open, it was almost impossible to reach them by car."
  • "Sprawling Houston is a can-do city whose attitude is grow first, ask questions later. It's the only major U.S. city without a zoning code saying what types of buildings can go where, so skyscrapers sometimes sprout next to split-levels. Voters have repeatedly opposed enacting a zoning law."

The big picture: "It's a minor event for the $19 trillion U.S. economy, since most of the economic activity that was interrupted will be made up later. It was a light hit for insurers, because few underwrite flood insurance and the wind damage they do cover was minimal; insurers' stock prices barely fell. The refining and petrochemical industries lining the busy Houston Ship Channel also got off fairly lightly (this time), because they've invested heavily in storm defenses."

"The impact on taxpayers is more serious, because Harvey is likely to generate tens of billions of dollars in emergency federal aid and claims on the money-losing National Flood Insurance Program ... Above all, Harvey is a humanitarian disaster."

N.Y. Times Quote of the Day — Joel Kotkin, an urban theorist who has championed Houston's laissez-faire approach to development, which he credits for creating affordable housing but which may have also worsened the flooding: "Why would you live in a hot, humid, flat space if it was expensive?"

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted COVID relief bill McConnell urges White House not to strike stimulus deal before election.
  2. Economy: Why the stimulus delay isn't a crisis (yet).
  3. Health: Studies show drop in COVID death rate — The next wave is gaining steam — The overwhelming aftershocks of the pandemic.
  4. Education: Schools haven't become hotspots — San Francisco public schools likely won't reopen before the end of the year.

Senate Democrats block vote on McConnell's targeted COVID relief bill

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Senate Democrats on Wednesday blocked a vote on Republicans' $500 billion targeted COVID-19 relief bill, a far less comprehensive package than the $1.8 trillion+ deal currently being negotiated between the Trump administration and House Democrats.

Why it matters: There's little appetite in the Senate for a stimulus bill with a price tag as large as what President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been calling for. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) "skinny" proposal was mostly seen as a political maneuver, as it had little chance of making it out of the Senate.

The hazy line between politics and influence campaigns

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The recent firestorm over the New York Post’s publication of stories relying on data from a hard drive allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden shows the increasingly hazy line between domestic political “dirty tricks” and a foreign-sponsored disinformation operation.

Why it matters: This haziness could give determined actors cover to conduct influence operations aimed at undermining U.S. democracy through channels that just look like old-fashioned hard-nosed politics.